SAINT LEO, Fla. – One week out from the start of the 2012 fall season, Lions' sophomore Maria Benkirane is looking to equal her exceptional freshman campaign. Finishing the year on a 21-match winning streak, Benkirane, sister of former Lions' tennis player Lina Benkirane, is currently in the middle of the longest individual winning streak in program history.
"Maria had a great run last year, and continued to improve each week of the season," said Head Tennis Coach James Bryce. "Being able to compete at the highest level of DII tennis week in and out is a great accomplishment. When Maria walks onto the court she expects to win, but is not afraid to lose. She has set the bar pretty high for herself this season, but I know with the same approach she will succeed again."
The Casablanca, Morocco native saw her lone bump in the road during an early season Sunshine State Conference clash with perennial power Barry University. A three-set thriller, Benkirane followed a 6-0 second set win with a loss of the narrowest of margins in the final set.
However, the loss proved to be the catalyst which jumpstarted Benkirane's record-setting run. Since that point, she was not been pushed to three sets in any of the following 21 matches, while opponents could only reach five points in a set once. She also posted five consecutive shutout victories en route to a 7-0 record at the No.4-flight position and a 15-1 record at the five spot.
"Tennis is a very mental and physical sport," said Benkirane. "Last season was very tough mentally and I never thought I would be able to play that many matches in just a couple months. I would have never won all those matches without the mental support of my teammates and of course my coaches for pushing me hard during our workouts. Those matches only made my expectations for this year even higher and made me more confident and motivated to win."
Her play on the court assisted the Lions to their second NCAA Tournament appearance, the first since 2007. The squad also finished with a program record 18 victories, while defeating Florida Southern for the first time in program history. Individually, she earned a spot on the All-SSC Second Team.
Benkirane and the Lions will begin training for a third NCAA appearance next Friday, September 14, when they travel to Columbus, Ga. to compete in the Columbus State Fall Invitational.
For more on the tennis program, visit SaintLeoLions.com.